A crashworthy design reduces death and injury risk. Structure and restraints (safety belts and airbags) are the main aspects of a vehicle’s design that determine its crashworthiness. Good structure means a strong occupant compartment or safety cage, crumple zones to absorb the force of a serious crash, side structure that can manage the force of a striking vehicle or struck object and a strong roof so it doesn’t collapse in a rollover.
Crash tests are used to evaluate a vehicle’s structural design and restraints. IIHS rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal or poor based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests, a roof strength test for rollover protection, plus evaluations of seats/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts. The federal government's New Car Assessment Program also evaluates new vehicles for protection in front, side and rollover crashes.
Passenger vehicles are safer than ever. Nearly all new cars, minivans, pickup trucks and SUVs earn good or acceptable ratings in front and side crash tests. Many also perform well when it comes to protecting people in rollovers and rear crashes, but some models still need improvement. IIHS in 2012 introduced a challenging small overlap frontal crash test to encourage automakers to continue to improve protection in frontal crashes.
Buying a new or used vehicle? This fact sheet, also available as a brochure, shows how to compare car, minivan, pickup and SUV models on safety, including how to use crash test ratings and what features to look for.